Studies on Vitamin B12 and Folate Deficiency Markers in the Elderly : A Population-based Study

Abstract: The aims of this study were to document the levels of cobalamin, folate, methylmalonic acid (MMA) and total homocysteine (tHcy) in serum and their relations to symptoms, clinical findings, and other factors in order to improve the possibilities of detecting early deficiency of vitamin B12 or folate, and to study the effects of cobalamin and folic acid treatment over a three-year period. The study population consisted of a 20% random sample of persons 70 years or older living in Älvkarleby in mid-Sweden. They were invited to a survey and 224 (88.4%) persons responded. Data were obtained by questionnaire, laboratory investigations and physical examination for the period 1993 – 1999. In a multivariate analysis performed at baseline, serum MMA and tHcy were significantly and independently correlated to age, serum cobalamin, and creatinine levels, and tHcy also to sex and serum folate. Neither serum cobalamin, folate, MMA nor tHcy had any significant correlation to haemoglobin or mean red cell volume. Almost half of the study population had signs of low tissue levels of vitamin B12 or folate. Among those who took multivitamin preparations, the proportion was much lower, 25%. Among traditional symptoms and clinical findings that have been linked to vitamin B12 or folate tissue deficiency, only changes in the tongue mucosa and mouth angle stomatitis were significantly associated with abnormal serum folate and tHcy levels. Traditional symptoms of vitamin deficiency may appear later in the course. 69 persons who had laboratory indications of early or overt tissue deficiency of vitamin B12 or folate and who had no ongoing vitamin treatment were given cobalamin for six months. Those whose MMA or tHcy levels did not normalise were given folic acid in addition to cobalamin. After further treatment for three months, all persons but one had normal levels. The laboratory effect still remained after three years of treatment. There was a tendency towards improvement of vibration sense, especially in the long nerve paths, and improvement of neurological symptoms and oral mucosa findings. Conclusion: A substantial proportion of elderly persons have laboratory signs of incipient tissue deficiency of vitamin B12 and folate. Treatment normalises lab parameters and some symptoms.